SIX Conservative councillors who were suspended after they voted against a key planning document have had appeals dismissed.

Former South Oxfordshire District Council leader John Cotton and a previous member of his cabinet Tony Harbour were expelled from the authority’s Tory group in January.

Four other councillors were suspended for periods between a month and three months.

All six voted against the SODC Local Plan in December, which sets out the building of 28,500 new homes in the district by 2034.

Suspensions appear to have been given out to some councillors because they nodded during a meeting or emailed the wrong person, according to one source.

It agreed with action brought by the council’s leader Jane Murphy and the Conservative Party’s group chairman David Nimmo Smith.

The four other councillors who were suspended were Elaine Hornsby, Sue Lawson, Imran Lokhon and Elizabeth Gillespie.

Another member of their group, John Walsh, was not suspended by the Conservative group, despite voting against the Local Plan.

Mr Walsh is listed as the treasurer of the Conservative Party's South Oxfordshire branch.

His wife Ginette Camps-Walsh is listed as the deputy chairman (political) of the same group.

All current SODC councillors will face re-election on May 2, unless they quit.

It has been a difficult few months for the SODC leader Mrs Murphy.

She replaced Mr Cotton last April but has since seen three councillors quit and the other six suspended.

Last month, Robert Simister, who had represented Kidmore End and Whitchurch since May 2011, said Mr Cotton and his former colleagues had been punished for ‘voting with their conscience’.

He told the Henley Standard: “It is perfectly clear that six of my colleagues have been suspended on matters relating to the Local Plan.

“They were suspended for voting with their conscience. I think the suspensions have not really been conducive to a happy group that is fighting from the same hymn sheet.

“If you are not of the same opinion, you are treated differently by the leadership team. That will not bring all the members together.”

Fellow Conservative councillors Richard Pullen and Anthony Nash resigned last year. Mr Pullen’s Benson and Crowmarsh seat was lost to the Liberal Democrats’ Sue Cooper last June.

Mr Nash resigned in November. Another election will not be held in his Didcot South ward until May.

When Mr Cotton was leader, the Conservatives held 33 of the council’s 38 seats. That has now shrunk to 24.

All suspended or expelled Tory councillors have now been moved to a ‘Non Group’.

The Conservatives' group was asked to comment.

28/2/19: The original article said a panel deciding the appeals was understood to have included West Oxfordshire District Council leader James Mills. Mr Mills was not on the panel and we're happy to correct this.